- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

RICHMOND — To be able to even practice, Jordan Reed needs his feet rubbed down. The Redskins tight end massages his feet to loosen the muscles in his surgically-repaired toes so they’re warmed up and ready to go over the course of a two-hour training camp session.

But the work doesn’t end there.

After stepping off the field, Reed does his foot routine again as part of the protocol recommended by his physical therapist. The round-the-clock maintenance is what’s necessary for the 29-year-old after doctors removed bones from each of his big toes in 2018. Even on Sunday, when the team gave him a day off, Reed was on the sidelines, doing foot exercises to stay loose.

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“One thing I learned, seven years in now, is healthy or not, you’ve still got to do maintenance,” Reed said. “That’s part of being a professional, and that’s one thing I’m trying to really improve on.”

So far in training camp, Reed doesn’t just look improved — he looks dominant and explosive.

Reed played 13 games last year, the second-most of his career, but he never looked comfortable and still ended the season on injured reserve with a foot injury.

He looks like a different player now.

It may be a fantasy to expect the oft-injured Reed to stay healthy for a full season, but the first week of training camp has been a reminder: To be an elite NFL offense, the Redskins need Reed.

A healthy Reed can be a game-changer — a threat that could turn around a unit that has ranked near the league’s bottom each of the last two seasons.

The Redskins were 29th last year and 20th two years ago in offensive efficiency.

“He looks phenomenal right now,” coach Jay Gruden said. “His explosion getting in and out of cuts, his one-handed catch the other day, he’s a special player and he can be used all over the place. We’ve just got to make sure we figure out ways to get him the ball and get him out in space, outside, inside, in the slot, maybe in the backfield from time-to-time, coming up high.

“There’s a lot of things he can do with it.”

Reed’s best statistical year came in 2015 — 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the last season the Redskins made the playoffs.

The Redskins see Reed as a difference-maker on third down. He’s typically the first option on any route progression, and Gruden loves to find ways to use the tight end’s 6-foot-2 frame to create mismatches.

Statistically, Washington’s offense has performed much better with Reed than without him.

Since 2013, the Redskins are nearly two points per game (21.8 with Reed versus 19.9 without him) better with their Pro Bowl tight end. They average almost 45 more yards of offense (366.3 to 321) with him per game, too.

The formula isn’t foolproof — the Redskins, for instance, had four quarterbacks in 2018, which affected their production — but Washington understands how vital Reed is to its success.

“It’s been so cool being around him and Vernon (Davis) because I’ve never been around talents like that, ever,” quarterback Case Keenum said.

“If I’m any quarterback, he’s going to be our No. 1 option that I want to throw the ball to,” running back Chris Thompson said.

Thompson, the only other remaining member of the Redskins’ 2013 draft class besides Reed, said he can see his teammate’s frustration over a long history of injuries.

The tight end is the type of player who tortures himself when he doesn’t run a route correctly, Thompson said. So imagine the pain Reed felt when he had to miss 31 games.

Thompson, though, has also seen Reed respond each time. This offseason, the two trained with Trent Williams and Adrian Peterson at the duo’s gym in Houston. Reed had gotten there a few weeks before Thompson, working on his rehab with his trainers and physical therapists.

The work, Reed said, made a difference. Speaking to reporters in Richmond, Reed noted how he feels fluid while running now and how he was able to train in the three months leading up to camp.

Last summer, he had to learn how to walk again because of the surgeries.

“I’m very excited, man,” Reed said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work to play well this year and be at my best, so I’m feeling good.”

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